Thursday, March 5, 2009

a lesson on con artists, con men, and the confidence game

A little lesson on con artists...

The economy is going down the tubes, and we all should be concerned with the future of our personal finances. For years, I've been interested in the confidence game and the simple ways that, by playing on the greed of the average man you can con him out of his entire life savings. You see, it was his greed that set him up to get taken anyway, he is presented with an opportunity, it was just outside of he usual realm of the law, and he knew there was some risk involved. There are thousands of cons and thousands of ways that, over history, we have seen that wolf in sheep's clothing betray a fellow man in order to gain some money. These days, people are desperate and in need of that quick dollar more than ever. In recent news, we've seen life savings be thrown away to nigerian scams, and a white collar stock swindler take the public for over fifty billion dollars. Don't let greed get the best of you. A con artist will play on the emotions of the mark (victim) and use pressure to force the mark to make a quick decision without reading the fine print. And the payoff seems so worth it, it's easy to get caught up in the scam.

Keep your nose clean. If it sounds too good to be true, it is!
Although the classic cons are really a thing of art, these days, the public seems so caught up in getting something for nothing, the most basic scams are working every
day to swindle people out of millions. Here are a few popular cons to watch out for.

Credit card Phone Scam: An official sounding person alerts you over the phone and needs to check on some "unauthorized charges" on your credit card. You give them your number and you're screwed. They might say something like, they need to verify insurance, or knock off some overage charges that they accidentally gave you. Don't ever give your credit or phone card numbers to anyone.

City Inspector: An “inspector” says he needs to check plumbing, wiring, termites, or some problem that your house is having and could be effecting the rest of the neighborhood. He finds a “serious” problem that requires labor, but offers to have a friend do the repair work immediately. It's amazing who we will let in our house and just give our money to, simply because they have a clipboard and a nametag. It takes five seconds to research a dude's company. Be sure to use your phone book and not his business card. He could be a George Costanza pulling a Vandalay industries on you.

Contest Winner: You won!, you must send money for postage, taxes, registration, or call for details. This could add up to hundreds or even thousands. Do not send any money. Never pay for a “free” prize. You will receive nothing but an excuse and then a request for "just a little more money" to release the item, or to help clear customs. This scam is super common, and since they usually ask for smaller amounts of money, they go on not getting reported.

Lotteries: This may sound stupid, but it happens. A person offers to sell a winning lottery ticket, maybe cause they're not a US citizen and they cant collect. Or a more official sounding one is when a “law firm” says that someone has left you a winning lottery ticket, but you must send money so a computer can verify your identity. There may even BE a ticket. It's a fake, but you don't know that, and you're about to make a bunch of money if you give them their fee for being the handlers right?

Medical Products: It's not that hard to get a "target" list of people with a certain ailment. Health, beauty care, “cures,” or magic diets are offered by mail or e-mail. These will be cures or products targeted to help. Once they have your money sudden extra fees may crop up and your product will never get there without the extra money. It will never get there at all anyway.

900 Number: This one was big in the nineties. 900 numbers are legitimate, but the call may cost more than advertised. You will most likely be put on hold to add to the bill, and many products are worthless. But as long as you're on the phone, you're giving away money.

Internet ‘Phishing’ Scams: An e-mail is sent to you from a business, organization, or government agency asking you to update or validate information about your account. That's it! The message asks you to respond immediately. And for security reasons, it asks you to not open any attachment, reply, or click on links within the message. It will sound official and probably make perfect sense. Next thing you know your account is drained.

Obituary: If you've had a recent death in the family, all it takes is somebody with a newspaper to scam you. Playing on your grief. A COD box arrives with a product for “your recently deceased who-ever.” It's something that so-and-so ordered before they died and you need to pay for it now. Pay for it, open it, it's empty. The messenger was an imposter. And you're burnt.

Again, there are thousands of ways people get scammed out of tons of money. The key is to be smart and do background checks. They say 'you can't con an honest john'. If thats true, then remember that you're never going to get something for nothing, and these days everybody is trying to pull a fast one.

P. Melcher

1 comment:

Michael said...

some deep thoughts there Melch... but your on the money with every point.